Monday, February 08, 2016

Yes to This, No to That

This year I'm making some intentional shifts in where my yes's and no's are. Some of this feels terrifying, some of it feels like a relief, some feels like adventure waiting to unfold.

SAYING YES TO TRAVEL means saying NO to:
- a geographically fixed workspace
- a consistent open-to-the-public schedule at the gallery 
- being able to attend all of the local events that interest me
- other tempting ways of using my time and money

- certain requests for custom work or repairs
- certain social activities because I need lots of time in the studio
- an easily defined image/style (which causes me stress because I like to be cohesive, and the work I want to make feels pretty random right now)

- eating too much sugar
- smoking too much weed
- weighing myself obsessively

- behavior patterns that cause me pain
- toxic relationships
- the stigma of being in therapy

- a shared studio space
- employing an assistant
- a boundary-less existence with the family business

- having my phone in the studio
- the need to make "good" work
- fear of being vulnerable

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Studio Incarnations

Over the years there have been many spaces in many different places where I have made my work. Here's a fun flashback, from Maputo to Oakland to Mendocino to Point Richmond.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Geneva 2015

At the tail end of September, Rico and I went to Geneva for a mini-reunion of Mozambique friends. Kelly and Marcos, our fellow American-Brazilian couple, have been living there for about a year, as has Helen, our badass friend who heads up land mine removal operations. Europe's geography helped out the reunion effort, as Brighton-based Jenny was able to fly down for a few days with no problem.

It was a much-needed get together. Nothing like old friends to make you feel all is right in life, and to give you objective but well-founded perspective on your current concerns and opportunities. Us girls held a Council of Elders and basically advised each other on the Major stuff: relationships, career, family, health. The boys also had boy time, which I imagine was just as satisfying. 

Amid all the talking, we managed to squeeze in some leisure. Kelly and Marcos, who hosted us, actually live just over the border in France. I neglected to take any photos, but their house is right next to some lovely agricultural fields beyond which are the Alps in the distance. I went running along tractor paths that criss-cross the fields, through corn and kale and what looked to be radishes. There were self-serve farm stands with pears and quince and apples, and signs for a co-op vineyard with local wine.

Interestingly, the farm roads I was running on actually crossed the border into Switzerland but save for a sign saying you should have an ID on you, it was an almost imperceptible passage. Borders were on my mind a lot during the trip: who can cross them, who can't, and how unfair it often seems.

We only had a short few days in Geneva, but we managed to get in some tourism. One afternoon we cruised the lake in an old paddleboat and had lunch in their chic on-board dining room. All along the perimeter of the lake there were gargantuan old world mansions with manicured grounds, which Marcos told us cost a cool 50 million Euros.

Apparently Geneva is up there as far as real estate prices are concerned, and that was definitely the feel I got being in the city: that it is a place for the well-off. With the UN headquarters there, as well as many other international development organizations, there is a bubble that brought flashbacks of Maputo. The people working to help the world's least fortunate often have a cost structure and lifestyle that is among the world's most expensive. Irony at its finest, for sure.

Anyhow, the boat was lovely as was the wander around old town that we took after lunch...

On our last night, we went out to a fancy Michelin-starred restaurant called La Ferme de l'Hospital. Innovative food, well-curated atmosphere, but also one of the biggest shocks of this trip: only the men at our table were given menus with prices. Us ladies all had menus with descriptions of the food but no prices.

The assumption about gender roles left me drop-jawed. If we had been a table of all heterosexual couples, maybe I'd have been mildly offended but let it go. What really perplexed me was that we were four ladies and two men. So were Rico and Marcos supposed to also pay for Helen and Jenny (who have boyfriends of their own back home?) What if there were a lesbian couple at the table, would the more masculine-seeming lady have received a menu with prices? Or would the men still be "expected" to pay? What if a table of all ladies came to eat?? I was incredibly shocked at this old-fashioned gender BS, but my dining companions had all seen it before and thus it was less of a thing for them...Gender issues aside, the meal was delicious and ridiculous in the way that 7-course formal dining usually is. 

The next morning we said our farewells and headed to the airport to continue our vacation. Actually in the airport I had my #2 shocking experience of the trip. We checked in to our flight and were only asked for boarding passes, no ID. We went through security, and still no ID. Boarding the plane we went through an automated gate that scanned a bar code on our boarding pass.

As an American used to US security routines, this was shocking to me. How on earth could it be possible in 2015 to board a plane all willy-nilly with just a cell phone boarding pass and no positive ID that you are actually the person traveling? I understand that within the Schengen countries there is free movement of people and goods, but it was shocking to experience it in an airport. I guess land borders seem more anti-climactic as far as unhindered passage. Also, it brought up thoughts again about who can freely move between countries and who can't. So much seems linked to money, privilege, and xenophobia. Lots to question, and lots to be grateful for.

Next stop: Croatia!


Two days ago it was time. Azul had a fabulous 14-year run, but she was old and increasingly sick and you could tell she was at the end. She went peacefully, but that doesn't mean it was any easier on us humans who love(d) her. I originally got Azul from a shelter in Albuquerque in 2002. In 2003 I took her to live in Austin. In 2005 she came to California to live with my mom while I went to Mozambique (at that point I thought I'd be in Africa for a year or two, tops). But a Mozambique adventure turned into a major chapter, and Azul became my mom's girl. Lots of geography, lots of good times together.

Monday, October 12, 2015


I turn 34 tomorrow.

I can't remember my birthday last year or what I did to celebrate it. I mean, I'm sure if I look back at my calendar or photos I can piece it together, but offhand it's a blank.

A lot of last year felt blank honestly. Well, a mix of blank and bouncing between "I feel incredible joy, my life is exactly what I've always wished for," and "I feel unbearable pain and something major in my life must change." Exhausting and deeply confusing, all these opposite feelings.

It had been creeping up on me for a while that a major life inventory was due. Then one day in August, it happened. I was no longer afraid to look inside and name my truths. This unstoppable stream of words and emotions and bravery came out of me, and I shared with the people I love.

It's so refreshing to feel like myself again, to turn on the fuck-it button (ligar o foda-se), to learn about what I want and don't want, to be humble and grateful, and to make sure I am living my life accordingly.

Tomorrow, on my birthday, I will:

- Go swimming at 6:15am at the Plunge (the pool by our house that I had been curious about for ages and finally started going to with a couple of girlfriends to swim laps).

- Find something that seems delicious as a birthday treat and go buy it.

- Have a picnic lunch on our deck with Rico, his mom (who is here and loving life in California), and my mom. Hanging out with the moms is one of my favorite things.

- Then I have therapy in Berkeley, with a woman I recently started going to and totally love. (I had been thinking about going to therapy for the last 7 years. Seven!!! I guess you go when you are ready, and I'm so glad I did.)

- In the evening I will go paint with my painting group. (My 90-year-old friend Manny hosts it at his house, and there are two other local artists who attend regularly, plus guest participation by Rico's mom every once in a while.)

Already my birthday this year has been a good one. Pre-birthday, I guess, but whatever. I feel like it's started. My dad told me the first cranes made it to New Mexico on their fall migration, so the kick-off is official.

I just had solo dance party in my gallery, which was fabulous. And I am working on the sketches for a challenging commission, a geometric ring in sterling silver. The design is two lines zig-zagging through life (around the ring band) that eventually converge and intersect at two points. Beautiful concept, but a nightmare to calculate and draw (although this is just the kind of math + pattern + aesthetics problem I love).

There is some major full-circle synchronicity to these rings, too. In the summer of 1999 I was 17 and fell in love with a boy in Brazil. Very long story short, it ended with me heartbroken and full of self-hate. Although we eventually found closure, this person and that relationship have been riding shotgun in my unconscious for the past 17 years. I just realized this is exactly half my lifetime ago!!

Again long story short, I now find myself making promise rings for him and his girlfriend. Today while sketching yet another version of the design, I had an epiphany about the reasons why this half-life relationship has continued to have such a hold on me. I had a major cry, and then lightness. What a wonderful birthday gift, this moment of self understanding.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I want my business to flow like I want my life to flow, and for this I need systems. I spend a lot of time analyzing what I do, how I do it, where I do it, when I feel like doing it, and when I avoid it. After nearly two years of observing myself, I can see certain patterns, allowing me to engineer my use of time and space in a way that feels productive, flexible, and full of ease.

My work is split between three spaces, each of which has finally begun to reveal its identity. I've realized what I want to do in each place, what works given the unique layouts and constraints, what definitely doesn't work.

My studio at my mom's house is my alone space. There I can dive deep in my ideas, experiment with materials, get lost in my projects. It's also a space where I measure very, very precisely and hopefully cut only once. It's where I solder and make noise and use power tools. This has been a shared space for the last three years, and in the new year it will be all mine for the first time. I plan to rearrange a little and put in a painting area and an enameling area. I'm excited.

My gallery is where I put on my public face, at least during the hours I've committed to being regularly open. I've recently started spending more time in this space in off-hours, which feels good and allows me to let my hair down and relax into just being present. The gallery has often felt stressful, and over the last two years I've started to understand why that is, and how to overcome it.

I have a carefully controlled presentation to the public, an experience that I want people to have when they come in here. This requires discipline and procedures and lots and lots of tweaking of details. So much goes into creating the space I envision, and I'm constantly rearranging. I've recognized the cycle, at least: I'll put out new work, agonize because it all looks horrible the way it's displayed, feel like I don't have any of the right props or surfaces or labels, then make a brilliant adjustment that brings all the jewelry and paintings and found objects together, then feel super satisfied for about two weeks, then start to think the displays look bad, feel the need to drastically rearrange, then repeat the cycle but with a slightly different mix of pieces.

I often feel dissatisfied with the way my work looks in the gallery, which I know seems bizarre because the space itself is always beautiful. But there's always something that doesn't fit right, or needs to be regrouped, or on a larger background, or explained in a different way. I think a lot about iterations. Dozens of different ways of categorizing, classifying, presenting, and narrating my work. With each iteration I understand more about myself, about what I'm doing.

The logistical side of this constant re-visioning and re-arranging is a nightmare. Holes drilled, walls patched, paint touched up, lights adjusted, displays built, props corralled in bins, mannequins and busts acquired, aluminum maps stacked, supplies sorted, labels printed, stuff hauled back and forth and back and forth. Thus I am obsessed with how to make it flow easy, this eternal doing and undoing of my space.

Furthermore, I have the opportunity to work with two young women artists as assistant/interns, which means I need to have good storage systems and policies and procedures in place, because if it's hard with one person it quickly turns to chaos when there are more hands and heads involved. Not just the logistical stuff, but thinking about the experience and the identity of my space: how to greet people when they walk in, what kind of values I want to transmit, how to operate in my absence. It's a lot. Training people is hard, because to do it right you have to know what YOU want, which in my case has not only taken a while but is ever-changing. Being able to be flexible and dynamic is a must.

When I first opened the gallery, I thought I'd do a certain kind of work at my front desk and jeweler's bench. I've finally learned what it is I actually want to do here, and what doesn't work at all. I need to do tasks that are conducive to interruption and pauses. Sketching works well, as does administrative stuff.

Other things seemed better in theory than in reality. For example, I started with a huge monitor in the gallery to be able to do photo editing and website updates in here. What I didn't anticipate was the size of the screen, coupled with the glare from the sun hitting the cars parked across the street, giving me migraines. Also the screen blocked my view of the front door. And I realized that when I work on my website, I'm deep in thought trying to build my site in a way that makes sense and write succinct copy. Any interruption totally takes me out of the zone, and I forget what exactly I was doing and what page needed updating. So that was out. I took my monitor home, and now do photo editing and website updates from there.

Which brings me to my final workspace, in our house, in a shared office with Ricardo. That's where I do my accounting, and my emails, and anything that benefits from a huge computer screen. It's a pain to have my functions/papers/things split among three spaces, but the reality is that I often feel like staying home but also need to work a bit. So if I can work a little from home as well as my studio and my gallery, I'm able to stay on top of things better. And there's nothing quite as nice as rolling out of bed, getting some coffee, and knocking out five things on the computer while still wearing pajamas.

The habits from my days as a freelance consultant die hard, I guess.

Monday, September 21, 2015


The compass, a tool for finding the way no matter how lost one might feel. Its imagery shows up in my life a lot...from my business logo to my tattoo to the pattern in the first faceted stone I ever cut (pictured above). A reminder to stay true to my internal North.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Freeform Patterns

Ali Amaro, freeform vibrant colors floral geometric pattern in gouache

I love painting multi-layered patterns with no plan other than to mix some colors and be loose. No overthinking allowed. No worries about how ruined or unattractive my expression might become. Every brush stroke will take me exactly where I need to go, so I just lay down the colors and shapes and enjoy the surprises that emerge.

I've been designing patterns my whole life, so by this point I know how to engineer a pleasing result. But that's not what interests me per se, so a lot of this exercise is about finding ways to move beyond the predictable and into whatever exists beyond the prettiness.

Ali Amaro. Pink plaid floral pattern in gouache.

Above is an example of a pattern that went somewhere new for me, away from the Marimekko/tropical/floral aesthetic that is my first language. It started out looking like a giant abacus, then got some florals and geometry, then got way too messy with too much going on, so I wiped all over the entire surface with a big, dry brush. Finally I drew a vine/chain pattern over the plaid with a light hand.

This blurry, pink plaid is exciting to me because it represents a new strategy to explore: make a pattern, then blend everything together. Lose the details. Throw a layer of fog over what once was clear. The results will be softer and quieter than my usual frequência operacional, I imagine.